Theater Around The Bay: KING LEAR Begins Second Week!

KING LEAR returns tonight!

Don’t miss this final production from Theater Pub!

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Adapted and directed by Sam Bertken and featuring Valerie Fachman, Carl Lucania, Marlene Yarosh, Genevieve Perdue, Megan Briggs, Matt Weimer, Charlie D. Gray, Sam Heft-Luthy, Vince Faso, Karl Schackne and Kevin Glass, LEAR is the fitting swan song of sadness and silliness that will close the book on Theater Pub.

Catch “LEAR” only at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, November 28 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, November 29 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we get there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and delicious dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciation to our hosts

See you at the Pub!

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In For a Penny: What’s in a Name?

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“Well, that was bloody Shakespearean! D’ya know who Shakespeare is? He wrote the King James Bible!”
Gangs of New York, screenplay by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

It’s a bit empty ‘round the ‘Pub offices these days. Yes, there are Theater Pub offices. They’re located within a classified, heavily-guarded location that may or may not resemble the ThunderCats’ Lair. Within the great hall – which bears a strong resemblance to the Childlike Empress’ throne room in The NeverEnding Story – we ‘Pubbers gather to feast on divine ambrosia, sip unicorn tears from The Holy Grail, and plot world domination. We also occasionally write plays.

But yes, these days our hallowed halls aren’t as occupied as they once were: no more dispatches from the rainbow over Cowan Palace; the Working Title now reads “Happily Ever After”; Everything has moved on to Something greater; The Five are too busy making every moment count; and I sincerely hope no one else has been Hit by a Bus – to name but a few written columns. There’s a genuine last-day-of-school feeling to it all. So as I pack up my monogrammed silken robes, my golden quill, and the two-headed axe given to me by Xangô himself, I decided my penultimate entry should cover something near and dear to we ‘Pub folk, so as to distract from its pending conclusion.

No, it’s not the incredibly thorough spreadsheet I’ve nearly completed (that’s not a joke: as I type these words I’ve got Excel open in another window as I try to finish the definitive ‘Pub factsheet titled “SF Theater Pub – By the Numbers”. It has every ‘Pub writer, actor, director, location, and guest musician cross-referenced by each and every show. Every. Single. One.), but rather our dear 452-year-old friend William Shakespeare. As some of you may have heard, the fine minds at Oxford have concluded that Shakespeare co-wrote his Henry VI trilogy with fellow playwright Christopher “Kit” Marlowe. As such, Marlowe and Shakespeare will now share credit in all future Oxford editions.

A shocking development to be sure – “scandalous,” some might say – but I’m not here to debate the evidence or credentials of some of the finest scholars in the western world. Having said that, I’d be remiss not to mention how this brings up the mosquito in the ear of every Shakespeare-lover (myself included): The Authorship Question.

What, you may ask, is “The Authorship Question”? Well, if you have 24 minutes to kill, you can watch a thorough (and hilarious) breakdown of it in this video. If you don’t have 24 minutes, here’s the TL;DR version: there are people who believe Shakespeare’s plays – with their magnificent turns-of-phrase and adventures in foreign lands – couldn’t possibly have been written by a poor kid from Stratford-upon-Avon with no higher education. These people, quite simply, are wrong. There is conclusive empirical evidence to show that they are wrong. This hasn’t stopped these folks (known as “non-Stratfordians” or “anti-Stratfordians”) from pushing this conspiracy theory since the 1800s.

Because everyone should have Rummy's worldview.

Because everyone should have Rummy’s worldview.

Still, the folks at Oxford say The Henry Trilogy was co-authored by Marlowe. Putting aside whatever fuel this adds to the non-/anti-Stratfordian fire, why is the idea of such a collaboration a bad thing? Shakespeare still likely wrote all of his other plays alone, so what’s wrong with him seeking help for his epic three-play cycle? Probably because most people don’t really know how art is created.

The public often knows of artists two ways: through the art they create and they mythology of that creation. Many a tale’s been told of how The Great Artist was one day struck with the lightning bolt of inspiration which lead him or her to immediately run back to the studio and create THE greatest thing the world has ever seen in merely a single draft. Right… Even more tales are told of aspiring artists who give up early because their first drafts are shit. They hear artists throw around phrases like “write what you know” and think all their work must be autobiographical and pristine from the get-go. Anyone who’s ever dared to take art seriously knows the terrible secret these folks don’t: all first drafts are shit.

Yet the legend of The Perfect First Draft is perpetuated, paradoxically enough, by other forms of art. If there’s one thing I hate about films, plays, or books about artists it’s how they oversimplify the artistic process. I know that for dramatizations they’re doing it for the sake of running time, but would it have hurt the film Frida to explain how Kahlo created her paintings rather than having them seem to appear by osmosis? One of my favorite films about the artistic process is Hustle & Flow because it shows that making art is a messy, exhausting process that has to be done over and over again. Hell, my favorite album of 2016, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, was more or less created in the public eye. West remixed songs, dropped some entirely, rewrote lyrics, constantly tweaked the tracklist, changed collaborators, and changed the title multiple times… all on his Twitter account. Sure, everyone thought he was crazy(-er than usual), but he showed the world what it’s like to tear up a drafts you hate and start over from scratch. And the result was fantastic.

And yes, he had collaborators. Just as the legend of The Perfect First Draft has little basis in reality, so too does that of The Lonely Artist. After all, if you can’t create art all by your lonesome, why even try, right? Quentin Tarantino tried to take sole credit for his screenplays Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, and the infamous Top Gun speech from the film Sleep with Me. Turns out those were all co-written (or, in the case of the latter speech, entirely written) by Tarantino’s collaborator Roger Avary. Avary successfully sued his former friend for proper credit and they both won Oscars for the Pulp Fiction screenplay. That’s just one of many stories about silent collaborators (trying looking up the making of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sometime).
On the other hand, several great artists are open about how their greatest works were collaborations. Francis Ford Coppola – who’d already won an Oscar for the screenplay of Patton – credits Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne for writing one of the most important scenes of Coppola’s The Godfather. Steven Spielberg credits his friend John Milius with writing the USS Indianapolis scene from the film Jaws. And I’ve written before about my affinity for great artistic groups like The Inklings, The Algonquin Round Table, and Lorraine Hansberry’s group of fellow authors.

Art is not created in a vacuum, it’s the result of tireless destruction and recreation in the attempt to make an esoteric idea into something tangible. Even someone as skilled as Shakespeare would need someone as talented as Marlowe to be real with him and say “Will, this is shit.” (To which Shakespeare would likely respond “Yeah, well fuck you and your ‘thousand ships,’ Kit!” before calming down and asking Marlowe to elaborate.) These two became the greatest authors in the English language by bouncing their ideas off one another.

Unabashed Shakespeare fanboy Tom Stoppard imagined such a scene in his Oscar-winning screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. In one scene Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) runs into Marlowe (Rupert Everett) in a pub as the latter basks in the glow of his successful Doctor Faustus. Shakespeare mentions that he’s working on the unfortunately titled “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter”. Marlowe suggests setting the play in Italy because “Romeo” sounds Italian, and to have a scene where Romeo avenges the murder of his best friend Mercutio. And that’s it. That’s Marlowe’s only contribution. Shakespeare writes the rest of the retitled Romeo and Juliet on his own, and it’s great.

Huh. It’s almost as if Shakespeare was as human as the rest of us and needed help from time to time.

I've actually had this facial hair quite often. For I am Shakespeare.

I’ve actually had this facial hair quite often. For I am Shakespeare.

As you probably know, this month’s ‘Pub show will be King Lear as directed by Sam Bertken. He’s rounded up a helluva cast for what will be the ‘Pub’s sixth and final Shakespeare adaptation (the seventh Shakespeare-related when you include Molly Benson & Karen Offereins’ “Hamlet and Cheese on Post”). Shakespeare has often been invited to the ‘Pub because he means something to the ‘Pub, both to those who stage his plays and the audiences that see them. Hundreds of years after his death, the words he wrote – and yes, he did write them – resonate all over the world in a way few other works can. That’s why everyone takes The Authorship Question so seriously: they want to know by what process God created an artist so masterfully adept at writing the words to which so many can relate. Even if it was some poor kid from Stratford.

Shakespeare means a lot to the ‘Pub and it goes without saying that the ‘Pub means a lot to all of us. What does it mean to me exactly? Hmm… Maybe I’ve got one last thing to write from this golden quill.

Charles Lewis III’s favorite Shakespeare-related ‘Pub memory is when he witnessed first-hand how the amazing Neil Higgins took a potential disaster and flawlessly turn it into a live theatre triumph.

Theater Around The Bay: Announcing Theater Pub’s Next Show!

Theater Pub’s November show is another classic from the Bard’s folio. We’ve done comedies, we’ve done histories, we’ve done problem plays- and now, with the same love, speed, and healthy irreverence that’s made these productions instant classics in the past, we present William Shakespeare’s LEAR.

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Adapted and directed by Sam Bertken and featuring Valerie Fachman, Carl Lucania, Marlene Yarosh, Genevieve Perdue, Megan Briggs, Matt Weimer, Charlie D. Gray, Sam Heft-Luthy, Vince Faso, Karl Schackne and Kevin Glass, LEAR is the fitting swan song of sadness and silliness that will close the book on Theater Pub.

Catch “LEAR” only at PIANOFIGHT (144 Taylor Street):

Monday, November 21 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, November 22 @ 8:00pm
Monday, November 28 @ 8:00pm
Tuesday, November 29 @ 8:00pm

As always, admission is FREE, with a $10 donation suggested at the door. No reservations required, but we get there early to get a good seat and enjoy PianoFight’s full bar and delicious dinner menu. Remember to show your appreciation to our hosts

See you at the Pub!

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: What I Did For Love

Marissa Skudlarek shares some thoughts on our impending closure.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Theater Pub will wind down operations after our December show. It’s not a decision that the artistic staff made lightly, but at the same time, it’s a decision they made with no regrets and no sense of heartbreak. Theater Pub is dying a peaceful, natural death; we’re not looking for a miracle to “save” us and, in fact, we might not accept it if it was offered.

Indeed, we really don’t want people to see our closure announcement and spin it into some story about how The Arts Are Dying In The Bay Area Because It’s Too Expensive Here. Maybe that’s true for some arts organizations that have had to shut down, but not for us. Nor do we feel like our passing will leave an un-fillable hole in the local theater scene. Contrary to popular belief, “there are a lot more opportunities and venues in the Bay Area today than there used to be,” as Meg Trowbridge wrote.

When we posted our closure announcement on a Bay Area theater message board, a local theater patron reacted with concern and alarm. He offered to set up a GoFundMe page if that would allow us to “stick around.” As I said, we want to nip this narrative in the bud, so Stuart Bousel gave me the go-ahead to reply to the man. This is what I wrote:

“I’m a longtime Theater Pub attendee/writer/producer/blogger/actor and friend of the Pub’s current leadership, Stuart Bousel, Meg Trowbridge, and Tonya Narvaez. We appreciate your concern and your desire to keep art alive in the Bay Area, but as Stuart and Meg and Tonya wrote in their post, money has very little to do with why we have decided to end Theater Pub. Theater Pub was never going to be a full-time, quit-your-day-job career for any of us. We are indie theater artists juggling a lot of responsibilities (both theater-related and not), and after many years of hard work to produce a new show in a bar every single month — not an easy task! — we want to concentrate on other projects, other ways of making art, other things in our lives. None of us are quitting theater or leaving the Bay Area — on the contrary, I think we’re all busier than ever! So Theater Pub, the institution/organization, is going away, but WE, the artists, are not going away. The friendships and connections we have made, the skills we have learned, are not going away. It may sound strange, in a capitalistic age in a crazy expensive city where nearly every conversation turns to money, but the reason we’re ending Theater Pub isn’t about the money, it’s about the art.”

Meanwhile, this Medium post by Jeff Lewonczyk about why he gave up making indie theater in New York, has been making the rounds. As I said, for the time being, none of the core Theater Pub folks are planning to give up theater the way that Lewonczyk has. But I also think that we all understand his sentiments and don’t blame him in the least. There comes a time to step away from things, thoughtfully but without regrets.

As Stuart, Meg, and Tonya wrote in the title of their joint post, “autumn is a time to say goodbye.” Many of the Theater Pub usual suspects are also involved with the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which begins in just a few weeks and whose theme this year is myths of death and the underworld. But at least for me, looking at death through a Greek-myth framework means seeing it as inevitable, and necessary, and possibly peaceful. (The mythological figure I’m writing about this year is Macaria, Persephone’s daughter and the goddess of peaceful death.) It means thinking about the cyclical nature of things; how Persephone goes to the underworld for half the year, but she is never lost down there forever.

And in the meantime, we’re ending Theater Pub with a show about a ghost (September), a show about a gravedigger (October), King Lear (November), and, finally, a musical celebration/funeral/wake. Because we’re theater people, and we know how to end things.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. See the staged reading of her new play Macaria, or The Good Life at the Olympians Festival on October 14.

Theater Around the Bay: Tanya Grove, Caitlin Kenney, & Vince Faso of “Where There’s a Will” & “Why Go With Olivia?”

The Pint-Sized Plays just got a great review (complete with Clapping Man) from SF Chronicle theater critic Lily Janiak, and they have 1 more performance, next Monday the 29th. In the meantime, here’s another in our interview series with Pint-Sized folks.

Vince Faso is directing 2 shows in Pint-Sized this year: “Where There’s a Will” by Tanya Grove, and “Why Go With Olivia?” by Caitlin Kenney. In “Where There’s a Will,” Will Shakespeare  (Nick Dickson) visits a contemporary bar and finds inspiration in an unlikely source: a young woman named Cordelia (Layne Austin), whose dad is about to draw up his will. Meanwhile, Lily’s review aptly describes “Why Go With Olivia?”  as “an epistolary monologue from perhaps the world’s most ruthless email writer, played by Jessica Rudholm.”

Here’s our conversation with Caitlin, Vince, and Tanya!

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Caitlin Kenney at Crater Lake.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized this year?

Caitlin: I live with someone wrapped in the SF theater community, who has attempted submitting before, and thought I had as good a chance as any of piecing something together.

Vince: I’ve been an SF Theater Pub fan for a long time, been in a few productions, directed a little, but Pint-Sized was one I have always been interested in being a part of, and as I seem to be transitioning to more directing, I seized the opportunity, and am excited to be involved.

Tanya: I have two friends who’d had their plays in the festival last year, so I went to support them and had so much fun that I wanted to take part myself!

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Caitlin: Drinking several beers while making a verbal list of pie-in-the-sky ideas with no judgement.

Tanya: While I’m writing, I’m also imagining the performance in my head, so it’s like going to the theater all the time, which is my favorite thing to do!

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Vince: I’m probably not alone in saying that the actors I’m working with make it special. I’ve always loved seeing Jessica Rudholm perform, and practically jumped out of my chair at the chance to direct her for a second time. And I’ve worked on several shows with Nick Dickson and Layne Austin, and it doesn’t hurt that they live around the corner and we get to rehearse in my living room. Also, the pieces I’m directing are brilliant in their simplicity, and clever in the flexibility they lend the actors.

Tanya 2016 headshot

Tanya Grove has a head full of ideas.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Tanya:  I often have lots of ideas going in many directions, and I have to remind myself to simplify. You can usually get across the same message whether you have a cast of two or twenty, ten minutes or two hours, one scene or three acts. Because one of my day jobs is being an editor, I’ve learned to pare ruthlessly to get to the essence of text.

Caitlin: Personally, I think it’s planting the first seed. For me this means to stop poo-pooing every idea I have and actually start typing something.

What’s been most troublesome?

Vince: Finding rehearsal time for a festival like this is always a challenge.

What are your biggest artistic influences?

Tanya: My current playwriting hero is Lauren Gunderson. I think she’s brilliant. But my style is more William Shakespeare meets Tina Fey…

Caitlin: Richard Brautigan, Joni Mitchell, Sense and Sensibility, and Google (to answer my formatting questions).

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Vince: Meryl Streep, because while she is arguably the best around, she seems like she’d be a very giving actor to work with.

Tanya: When I was in high school I had a crush on Richard Dreyfuss, so I guess I would cast 1977 Richard Dreyfuss as my Will. That’s as good a reason as any, right?

Caitlin: Any sparkle-charming person with insecure confidence…how about Zoe Kazan? I’ve been watching the Olive Kitteridge miniseries and she’s hard not to watch.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Vince: Such a hard question! At the risk of straying off topic: I’ve worked with them before, but Scott Baker and Performers Under Stress always give me an intellectual and emotional challenge.

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What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Vince: As an actor I’m excited to get started on a production of King Lear for Theater Pub that goes up in November. As a director, I’m been gearing up for a production of Hamlet with my 7th and 8th graders at Redwood Day in Oakland where I teach. That will also go up in November.

Caitlin: I‘ve got a one-act for middle-schoolers going about a mindfulness-based therapy group with participants vaguely reminiscent of Hamlet characters. I’m finding it really hard to sit down and “crank it out,” but if I do, it will probably be entertaining.

Tanya: In September I begin my fourth season as a playwright for PlayGround, so I’m gearing up to write a short play each month. I’m more productive when I have an assignment and a deadline, so the challenge of writing a play in four days based on a prompt works well for me.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Caitlin: I went to the Oakland BeastLit Crawl and fell hard for spontaneous storytelling, so I am looking forward to one day spitting in the mic at StorySlam.

Tanya: I’m looking forward to seeing what Josh Kornbluth ultimately creates from his time volunteering at Zen Hospice. I’m a Josh fan from way back.

Vince: Events like Pint-Sized and the Olympians Festival that allow original works to be read or staged are a must for keeping the independent theater scene in San Francisco alive.

What’s your favorite beer?

Vince: I’m a sucker for a good IPA, but if a bar is serving Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale then I have to get it.

Caitlin: The Barley Brown Hot Blonde – spiciest, sexiest beer around. Though not around, because it’s brewed in Northeastern Oregon and they don’t distribute anywhere good for me or you.

Tanya: I used to drink a lot of Corona, but I think I’m more of a Hefeweizen gal now. I don’t have a favorite brand, though. Any recommendations?

Your final chance to see “Where There’s a Will,” “Why Go With Olivia?” and the other Pint-Sized Plays is on Monday August 29th at PianoFight at 8 PM! Don’t miss it!

Theater Around the Bay: Gabriel Bellman and Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”

The Pint-Sized Plays open TONIGHT so we’re bringing you another in our series of interviews with the folks behind the 2016 Pint-Sized Plays. Here are writer Gabriel Bellman and director Megan Briggs of “Polling Place”!

“Polling Place” satirizes the current political climate and the heated rhetoric of the 2016 election. In it, a highly strung woman who’s just cast her ballot goes into a bar and confronts a laconic man with the question “Do you think it’s fair to vote for a candidate based on whether they sit down or stand up when they use the washroom?” Caitlin Evenson plays the woman, Claire, and Ron Talbot is the man, Ian.

Gabriel Bellman

Writer Gabriel Bellman has his eyes on you.

How did you get involved with Pint-Sized, or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Gabriel: I’m proud to have been in this festival before. I enjoy the challenge of writing something on deadline, so when I saw the call for entries post into the clouds via a proxy-streaming server third-party service that takes encrypted pieces of digital information and converts them into the written language, I decided to write a short play using keystrokes and symbols to make words that were then used as a key to unlock language from digital chunks of electromagnitized green-chip circuit boards.

Megan: I directed a Pint-Sized show several years ago and had such a blast! Pint-Sized is one of my favorite SF Theater Pub events so I’m excited to be a part of it again this year 🙂

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Gabriel: I think it’s to avoid thinking of it as a short play. When you envision a three-inch photograph, for example, you might be thinking of only a corner of a mouth, but (possibly) a better photograph is a three-inch square-size photo of the planet Earth, as cliched and trite as that photo may be at this point (unless of course an alien is in the corner snapping a selfie and it isn’t a blatantly poor Photoshop-job). So if you set out to capture a micro-cosmonaut, then you can still explore heaven and earth, right? A small version of the entire experience of humanity, I guess is the goal, and that’s hard to fit into anything. I feel like I didn’t answer the question. The hardest thing about writing a short play is the constant comparisons to William Shakespeare from strangers on the street.

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Megan: The show I’m directing is absolutely delightful! Gabriel has written thoughtful and intelligent characters whose lives intersect in an unexpected way on Election Day. We had a fabulous time unpacking these characters and discovering the humor that comes when you mix politics with uncertainty. I also adore my cast. Caitlin Evenson and Ron Talbot are two fantastic performers and I’m very excited this show marks the first time they are working together on stage!

What’s the best thing about writing a short play?

Gabriel: Getting to see different human minds, each encapsulated in uniquely shaped skulls, interpreting and engaging in the process of making art in live performance. Writing is such a solitary act that it can be a form of self-flagellation or affliction, but when actors come along, that all changes. Actors are a jovial bunch, on balance, and are attuned to human emotion to such a way that they can call it upon demand with strangers looking at them — it’s pretty amazing. So the best thing is to play in creative space with other artists — it can seem too good to be true.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is, what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Megan: I think Stacy Ross is an incredible performer! She excels at both comedy and drama and by all accounts she is a dream to work with.

Megan Briggs

Megan Briggs is a frequent Theater Pub performer and now, a Pint-Sized director!

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Gabriel: There are a lot of different ways to answer that. For one, I could say parents, teachers, other artists, I could point to the times we live in, I could recount a midnight screening of Gremlins, or a Bob Dylan concert, or a Shaquille O’Neal dunk, or a Pop-Tart. Let me say something more guided: here are a few writers I felt impressed by as an adult. Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, Mary Shelley, Seamus Heaney. Allen Ginsburg’s Howl is still the best poem ever written (although not as good as Whitman’s Song of Myself – which is basically a rip-off of William Blake). Is that an answer? My biggest influences are gangsta rap, existentialism, Atari 2600, and Indian food.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Megan: I would have to say Emily Blunt because I would really love to see how this play would change if we had a British actress playing the part of Claire. It would bring up a series of entirely new questions about her character and why she is so intrigued by the political process.

Gabriel: Penelope Cruz because I have loved her since I was 19 and saw Belle Epoque. Actually, I wouldn’t want it to be weird, so maybe a better answer is Magic Johnson, since i have loved him since I was 15. Wait, was that a trick question? The answer is Madonna.

What other projects are you working on and/or what’s next for you?

Gabriel: I’m working on a feature play about a historical figure from New York at the turn of the century. I would say who and what it is about, but I’m too excited about it because I don’t think anybody else has done it yet, and it’s a good idea, and when you share those ideas early on, it bursts the bubble. What’s also next for me is a bubble tea. Very, very soon.

Megan: I’m very excited to be performing in Theater Pub’s production of King Lear this fall! I like my Shakespeare to be fast paced with high drama, and I think Theater Pub is the perfect venue for presenting Shakespeare that’s anything but boring and stuffy.

What upcoming shows or events in the Bay Area theater scene are you most excited about?

Megan: I’m excited about seeing the musical Chess for the first time at Custom Made Theatre Company this fall. I’m also super pumped for Hamilton next spring (although I have to be willing to wait for it).

Gabriel: I’m looking forward to the Lit Crawl, I believe I’ll be performing in that, and also seeing Hamilton, and plays that actors and playwrights from Pint-Sized are doing. It’s a talented group, excluding myself, since that sounds weird.

Finally, what’s your favorite beer?

Megan: I’m more of a cider girl myself, and Stella Cidre is my absolute favorite!

Gabriel: For anybody who was raised in the shadows of the Willamette Valley, it’s Black Butte Porter. But honestly, I love a nice Jamaican ginger beer.

See “Polling Place” and the other Pint-Sized Plays at PianoFight on August 15, 16, 22, 23, and 29!

The Five: Comic Influences

Anthony R. Miller checks in with the five sources of his comic inspiration.

Hey you guys, so I realize September was comedy month, and now were just starting to wade into October, a month dedicated to the darkness. I promise you, you’re gonna hear a lot from me about horror and being spooky later this months. SHAMELESS PLUG: GO SEE TERROR-RAMA. But there was no way I was gonna miss out on giving my thoughts on one of the most important things in the world to me, that lady named comedy. To me, comedy is a beautiful, necessary and challenging art form full of possibilities. So here are the top 5 influences on me as a writer, more specifically a comedy writer.

The State

This MTV sketch comedy show from the 90’s was and still is one of the funniest things ever. It was a show that just didn’t mock convention, it attacked it. The influence for me was exposing me to a brand of comedy I like to call smart/dumb. Sure the jokes were juvenile and silly, but they were really clever. You can see their innate understanding of not just comedy but theatre and performance. There were grammar jokes, Shakespeare jokes, and even Pink Floyd jokes. There was an irreverent shamelessness to their writing and delivery that shows like Saturday Night Live hasn’t done in decades because unlike SNL, The State was never concerned with being cool or hip, just funny. They were genuine smart-asses. They were comedy whores. Sadly, only a couple dozen episodes exist, but you can watch them all on Hulu. After it’s cancellation, they went on to do projects like Reno 911, Viva Variety, Stella and of course, Wet Hot American Summer . I WANNA DIP MY BALLS IN IT!

Airplane!

Funniest movie ever period. Nothing really sums up what I believe to be perfect camp like this movie. You’d be hard pressed to find a better display of People doing and saying ridiculous things with a straight face a painfully sincere delivery. Not to mention the brilliant layering of the jokes, jokes happening in the background, jokes you didn’t even know were jokes until the 4th re-watching. To me, this is the gold standard of camp, often times we see people winking at the audience and hamming it up for laughs. But it takes true genius to say something funny not because it was funny but because that’s just what that character would say, because it’s who they were. Camp requires a certain naiveté to come across right, because the characters don’t know they’re being funny, that’s what makes it funny. So instead of reading Susan Sontag’s very clinical, yawn inducing (seriously how does she make comedy sound so dull?) dissection of camp, just watch Airplane! It’s way more fun.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Charles Busch

A true light bulb moment for me was reading this play, five pages in; I knew I had finally found a kindred spirit. While I love Christopher Durang and Neil Simon and The Man Who Came to Dinner ( A dream project of mine, seriously, it’s the King Lear of Comedy). Nothing combined camp, sketch comedy and homage (not parody) like this play. It’s my comedic compass; the play that made me realize what I wanted to write was possible. Not to mention, it creates a clear line between homage and parody. In parody, you make fun of something, but when you pay homage to something you are embracing both the good and bad qualities of something you love. But this one-act play is just the tip of the iceberg; Busch’s body of work is funny, insightful and critical. So not only did it show me the kind of theatre I wanted to write was possible, it showed me where I could go from there.

No Cure for Cancer-Denis Leary

Acerbic, mean spirted, cynical and soul bearing are just a few words I use to describe Denis Leary’s breakout stand up special/one-man show. Every word of Leary’s comic tour-de-force was written from a place of incredible pain and fear. While in Europe, his wife gave premature birth to their son Jack. Because of the complications, they couldn’t leave. So Denis stayed and proceeded to write a piece of comedy that shaped the dark, critical side of my comedy writing. It’s so much more than couple funny songs and smoking jokes, He explores the death of his father, the pressure he feels to create a better world for his son, and the realization that no matter how depressed and overwhelmed we feel sometimes, you gotta shut the fuck up and go to work. This is the comedy that gave me a backbone, a desire to push forward. It has a perfect blend of sincerity, social criticism and toughness in the face of pain. He’s not just being funny, he’s getting shit off his chest. Also, I still use his “Whiney douchebag” voice, just watch it, better yet, buy the book version.

Commedia Dell Arte

Oh those goofy Italians, they sure were funny. But not just because they invented improv, not just because while the British were still putting wigs on 12 year old boys to play girls, the Italians were the first to put women on stage, or that they were the first pay actors, or even create a health care system for their actors. No, it is the invention of slapstick, a brand of comedy based on one basic premise, hitting people is funny. Whether you love low-brow comedy or dry high minded British humor or acerbic wit, you have Commedia Dell Arte to thank. Let’s break this down shall we? Commedia troupes started with basic pre-written scenarios that are built upon by big exaggerated performances and determining their actions on basic archetypes that we still see today. Sit coms, sketch comedy, improv, and physical comedy all owe their existence to Commedia. Oh, did I mention they were the first to show that women could be funny?

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, Director, Producer and a man who loves to sell theatre tickets. His show, TERROR-RAMA opens October 17th.